Songs I know by Heart

I discovered Jimmy Buffett when I was in my early teens. Our neighbors had a music collection that went far beyond that of my parents’ Jazz and classical music. Buffett’s Songs You Know by Heart was tucked in among the likes of Queen, The Beatles, Edie Brickell and Lou Reed. Pure curiosity drove me to put on this nondescript album, and I’ve been a Parrot Head ever since. As with many songs, it is the words that drew me in. I have friends who only hear the beat of a song, but for me, it is always about the words.

It was on a trip to Florida with my brother when one of his friends, also a Buffett fan, gave me the cassette of Songs You Know by Heart. I kept it hidden in the console of my car when others were in it. I didn’t need any more proof of how uncool I was. But when I was alone, I’d blast it and sing along as I drove the winding roads of Vermont.

I picked up my second album, Fruitcakes, after I fled Vermont to work at a fancy summer camp in Pennsylvania. It is this album that has the song “Quietly Making Noise” on it. When I decided to change the name of my blog from Smart Men Marry Doctors to Quietly Making Noise, I did it as a nod to my Parrot Head ways but also to my dad who loved the idea of quietly making noise so much that he had the words scrolling across his computer as a screen saver. 

Though Fruitcakes is my favorite album I don’t have a favorite song. I simply love too many of them and can sing along to almost all of the ones recorded from the 1970s to 2002. Recently Jimmy came out with an album called Songs You Don’t Know by Heart. I knew them all, and they are some of my favorites.

After the stint at the summer camp, where I met a girl from Florida, I worked for a time at an insurance agency in Harrisburg, PA. The death of my friend that previous spring had thrown my world into turmoil, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I quickly learned that insurance was not it. I had spent time in St. Augustine as a kid visiting my maternal grandmother and between that and the visions Buffett had put into my head I pointed my car south in the fall of 1996–I was chasing dreams that would soon crash into reality and evaporate. I moved to Gainesville, which is a swamp; the coast is hours away. The relationship fell apart after the first semester and I spent the next semester learning how sheltered I had been in my small town in Vermont. Through it all Buffett was my “guide.” I joined the fan club, added to my album collection and looked forward to finding the Coconut Telegraph, the Buffett fan booklet, in my mailbox each month. Why I never packed up and moved to the coast I don’t know. The lines Mother mother ocean I heard you call. Wanted to sail upon your waters since I was three feet tall. have always pulled at my soul. Unfortunately, I get such horrible motion sickness that despite the fact that I would sell everything to go live on a boat in the islands, it is just not something I could do. There was also the fact that I still had not accomplished my long-held dream of moving west to ski, which was about the only direction I had in those days. I was a lost and scared soul then and for many years to come. 

As my Florida experience became more erratic, all I wanted to do was get home to my friends who understood me. My paternal grandmother would write and ask me when I was going to return to the United States. After three semesters, I beat feet north taking my parrot head dreams and attitude with me. 

I spent the next three years at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire where the rum drinking part of the Parrot Head attitude became my leading operating procedure. The college had a radio station and on Sunday mornings I would load every one of my Buffett CDs into my messenger bag and drag my hung-over self across campus to do a two-hour radio show I called Setting Sail.

Now as the snow continues to pile up outside my office window I often have “Margaritaville Radio” on. It is the sun tan for my frostbite as I sing along to the songs, remembering my younger days when, well warmed by rum on frigid winter nights, I would mount the dive bar karaoke stage and get the bar to sing along to “Margaritaville.” Those days of rum drinking and bar hopping and dreaming of being a ski bum are far behind me. Now I dream of warm weather and beach living. I remember the adventures we’ve taken as a family to tropical shores and dream about the ones yet to come.